constipation, infrequent or difficult passage of feces. Constipation may be caused by the lack of adequate roughage or fluid in the diet, prolonged physical inactivity, certain drugs, or emotional disturbance. Sudden unexplained changes in bowel habits can be a symptom of a serious disorder (such as lower intestinal obstruction by a growth) and should receive medical attention. Most cases of constipation can be relieved by following a diet that includes adequate roughage and fluid and by establishing regular habits of evacuation. The continued use of laxatives is inadvisable. Daily bowel movements are not essential; many persons suffer from the harm caused by constant use of laxatives and enemas in an effort to establish the desired regularity.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.